The Braille Legacy criticised for ‘spectacular cripping up’
London musical The Braille Legacy has been criticised for its portrayal of blindness by a leading disability arts consultant.
Michele Taylor is director for change at the Ramps on the Moon consortium, which aims to increase visibility of D/deaf and disabled people.
Taylor complained that the production – running at the Charing Cross Theatre – does not include any blind or partially sighted actors, describing the casting of a sighted actor in the title role as a "spectacular act of cripping up”.
She said the show had made "almost no attempt" to make it accessible to blind and partially sighted people, despite being based on the story of Louis Braille.
"The title role is played by a sighted actor and, to rub salt into the wound, of the nearly 90 performances of the show, only two are advertised as being audio-described... This matters for all sorts of reasons, not least because it once again puts barriers in the way of any disabled person’s ambitions in the theatre. If we can't even play the crip roles, what hope is there?"
Taylor made it clear that she has not seen the show, but does not intend to, as she is "tired" of what she sees as the portrayal of blind people in the production.
"We are not regarded as co-creators, storytellers or performers; in this example, blind and partially sighted people are barely acknowledged as audience members," she said.
Taylor went on to question the motivations behind staging the show, and continued: "This is not about magnanimity or benevolence, it’s about recognising that diversity is central to the health and vitality of the ecosystem that is theatre. Shut out disabled and D/deaf people and you shut out talent, innovation, skill, and immense amounts of creative energy. And the process of shutting us out begins with shutting down our ambition by spinning the yarn that making theatre is not for us."
In response to Taylor's criticisms, a statement from the producers said they were disappointed that she had not seen the production, as her preconceived notion "is not based on fact".
"There is no attempt to imitate blind people in any kind of literal fashion. This is a highly stylised production that seeks to educate the public and to place the issues in a social and historical context," it said.
The statement said casting directors had actively considered blind and partially sighted individuals for several roles, and had cast one such actor, who later was forced to withdraw due to health issues.
"At all times we have been sensitive to the concerns of visually impaired people and have worked closely with Royal National Institute of Blind People to achieve a dramatic accuracy and to reach out to the community, both in terms of performers and audience members.
"We are proud to be presenting audio described performances, and have announced two in May. Given that the theatre has only 255 seats and the cost of presenting each audio described performance is roughly £1,250, we are closely monitoring the demand for these performances and will add additional performances as required."